Fifty-five years ago the U.S. Supreme Court protected students from religious coercion in public schools. The rightness of that decision is on painful display in a Kentucky elementary school where a 10-year-old boy is being bullied because he refuses to participate in a daily Christian devotional.
The Powell County Board of Education should waste no money or energy defending this obviously unconstitutional practice.
Even if some third party offers to foot the legal costs, board members and educators should put a halt to the Upper Room, which is described on the school district’s web site as a “non-denominational, student-led, Christian organization.” Clearly, however, without the support and leadership of the school’s adults, the sessions that are held each morning in the Stanton Elementary School gym, complete with visuals and religious music, would not be possible.
What’s happening at Stanton Elementary is wrong on several levels — legal, personal, educational.
The message that’s being broadcast about Powell County also should raise alarms. The school district’s web site proclaims “Education: The Natural Bridge to the Future,” an allusion to the county’s natural wonders which draw people from all over the world to the Red River Gorge. But few visitors are going to choose to stay and start a business or a family in a place where a public school ostracizes those who practice a different religion or no religion. Doing anything but ending Upper Room would project an image of bigotry and intolerance.
And it’s not just kids. Teachers also have ostracized the child, according to his mother, Heather Estes, an attorney and public defender. Estes is correct that school officials have created a climate that wrongly penalizes youngsters for their constitutionally protected beliefs.
On a video recorded by the mother, Stanton Elementary students said the Pledge of Allegiance during Upper Room. But what they’re learning — that it’s all right for the majority or those in power to impose their religious beliefs on others — would appall this country’s founders who rebelled against a king who ruled church and state by “divine right.”
There is one redeeming character in this sad tale: Ten-year-old Devin Estes, a fifth-grader who despite the taunts of his peers and insensitivity of his teachers, lives by the courage of his convictions.